PQ 25.3 — Who in my life is important for me to be able to talk to about my relationships? Whom do I think it’s important for my partners to meet?
“You know,” my mother says. “I really wish your brother would bring one of his girls home.”
“I guess he’s not at an emotional place where he wants to do that,” I say.
She and my father are out where I live, on a rare visit to see me. We live 900 miles apart. The last time they came out was when I graduated from college. Before then, they came out to my wedding. I was surprised when she’d asked if she could come out again, since there was no big milestone involved. I’ve been back to Maine a few times in the interim, too. And we don’t really enjoy each other’s company. But Dad hasn’t been well, and so I didn’t want to have any regrets. So I said yes.
“Your brother doesn’t have to marry them just because he brings them home, you know?” my mom says.
“Well, I know that and you know that, but we can’t know it for whatever girl he’s dating.”
“Or girls,” mom says.
I nod. “Or girls.”
Mom’s been very clear on her views of non-monogamy. It’s okay if you’re dating multiple people at a time so long as you’re trying to find someone to marry. That’s “dating around,” acceptable behavior — but to her marriage should indicate that you’re done. That you’re going to be monogamous. Then it isn’t polyamory or swinging or any of what she considers the freaky taboo bad forms of non-monogamy. And really, women shouldn’t be “dating around” at all, married or not. It’s a thing that boys are supposed to do.
That said, I’ve come out to her quite a few times as both bisexual and polyamorous starting about a decade ago. She gets irritated, starts interrupting me. If I make it through it, she basically says “okay” but then pretends later the conversation never happened.
It’s funny. While they’re visiting me, I do mention my girlfriend several times in front of her by name. But to tell her that we have drinks all the time at the restaurant where Mom, Dad, and I are getting lunch. I talk about the wedding I’m going to be in (my girlfriend’s) as a bridesmaid. Show Mom my dress.
“That’s actually really pretty,” she comments. “Maybe you can get it hemmed or something after the wedding. So you could wear it again and not step on it.”
Not step on it? I wonder. But that’s Mom. She imagines potential problems that I don’t worry about. For example, she’s extremely anxious as we walk up to a mall escalator on this visit because I’m wearing a long dress. “Be careful!” she warns me. “Don’t get sucked in.” Like I don’t wear dresses nearly every day. And like I don’t know how to ride an escalator.
It’s the weirdest thing spending time with her, in her state of odd denial. When it comes to polyamory and bisexuality, I’m pretty out in general. I’ve been in multiple national articles that mention my sexual orientation and the fact that I’m polyamorous and show my face. And technically, yes, I’m out to my parents.
But in practical terms, because of the way Mom deals with information she finds unpleasant, I’m hiding in plain sight. Mom doesn’t talk to me about any of it. She’s met and likes my husband but doesn’t want to hear much about our actual relationship or any dynamics. And certainly nothing about my other relationship.
She’d rather talk about party planning, cooking, and gossip about other women at her church (strangers to me, who I wonder why she spends time with, as it sounds like she hates them). Any time I try to bring up a subject that actually involves anything I’m interested in, Mom redirects within seconds back to talking about the dishes she used at the last bake sale. Or the roasted squash soup and clam chowder that she cooked last year that she made hundreds of dollars on after weeks of services charging people a few dollars a bowl.
“I don’t know how you two manage to live out here,” my mother says. “Your family’s all the way back in Maine. Justin’s folks are… how far away are they?”
“About four hours by car,” I say. “Not too bad, but not exactly close.”
“How do you make it without family?” she says.
“I don’t think you need family exactly to make it,” I say.
“What?” she says. She looks half-confused, half-irritated.
“I think you need people who are there for you, who you can count on. And I have that. I have the most amazing people in my life.”
Mom rolls her eyes. “Friends don’t owe you anything. They can drop you like that if they want to.”
I consider saying, “So can family,” but I stop myself, knowing it’ll rile her up, send us on a dark path. Instead, I say, “Mine aren’t like that.”
Mom pauses. “I just wish your brother would bring his girls home. I could cook them dinner. Show them the lake.”
We have a fight in the car while waiting for Dad to finish an appointment, because my mom keeps saying it was so inconsiderate for my sister to be openly gay. “Okay, she was gay, but did she have to rub my nose in it?” Mom cries.
“What do you mean by ‘rub your nose in it’?”
Mom says she means being introduced to her girlfriend and the girlfriend being so butch.
“What would you have preferred? That she’d just stayed in the closet? That you’d never known? That you’d never meet anyone important to her? That she’d look single?”
Mom frowns. “Don’t take her side! It wasn’t fair. She didn’t have to rub my nose in it.”
She repeats that several times as I squirm on the other side of the car.
And this is why your opinion doesn’t really matter to me. This is why I haven’t been quick to receive your approval. And why I don’t really miss you when we go a long time without speaking. Our values systems are radically different.
I want to say all of this, but Dad will be out soon, and he’ll be exhausted from the procedure. And the last thing I want to do is create something stressful he has to deal with. I just need to make it through the visit. But I still feel compelled to defend my sister. “Well, what she did makes complete sense to me. I know a lot of stuff that you don’t, too, stuff that fills in the blanks. You didn’t see things. Because you didn’t want to see anything uncomfortable or unpleasant. You never listened to us if we were saying something you didn’t want to hear. But that doesn’t mean that things didn’t happen. Or that we didn’t feel that way.”
Mom doesn’t acknowledge anything I’ve actually said. She instead starts talking about how ugly my sister’s first ex-girlfriend was. Describing the way she looked. Fixating on how my sister had the nerve to date a butch girl…. which is odd because my sister is incredibly butch herself. Always has been.
Mercifully, Dad emerges from the building, and we focus on him.
After they leave town, I’m exhausted. Mom seems happy, but it’s mostly because she left before we got into too many big fights. She forgets about that, now that we live apart. These days, we part ways before she remembers how much she disapproves of how I live and of everything that’s important to me.
When she can pretend I’m her perfect daughter who lives in a nice house in the suburbs.
I’m not big on the family introduction (never have been, even before polyamory). They aren’t my “people.”
When it comes to people that I think it’s important for my partners to meet, it’s all about my friends and my other partners. Those are my people.
This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions and answers, please see this indexed list.